4947 W. Florissant Ave
Saint Louis, MO 63115
Bella Morte Rating: 5 Tombstones
If you, Dear Reader, worship at the high altar of Victorian art (as we do), you will find in Bellefontaine a most-suitable object of reverence. Here, hosts of angels weep over their fallen human charges, women with flowing hair and gowns drape their sensuous forms over tombs, obelisks pierce the treetops and costly mausoleums boast of the fortunes amassed by their now-mummified occupants.
Bellefontaine is a veritable “Who’s Who” of famous Missourians, and if such topics are of interest, you would do well to research before going. At Bella Morte, our tastes run slightly left of center. We are more interested in curious facts than more traditional contributions to history books. Accordingly, we have gathered some fascinating tidbits about certain residents of Bellefontaine and we are pleased to share them with you below:
- Thomas Benton (1782-1858), Missouri Senator responsible for ensuring the Missouri Pacific Railway would start in St. Louis. Ho-hum. Here’s the fun part. Mr. Benton was involved in the infamous Benton-Lucas Duel. It seems political conflicts and general mistrust prompted Mr. Lucas to challenge Mr. Benton to a duel in 1817. The two gentlemen met on the Mississippi’s “Bloody Island,” (a moniker earned because the spot was commonly used for duels). On the designated day, and at the appointed time, the men took their paces and turned. When firing commenced, Mr. Benton was wounded in the leg and Mr. Lucas in the throat. Neither injury was mortal but Mr. Lucas’ was sufficient to render him unable to rise for a second volley. The two men agreed to allow for mutual recovery before another round of shots. Accordingly, they met three months later on “Bloody Island.” During this second duel Benton’s shot struck Lucas in the chest and very near his heart. Mortally wounded, Lucas died twenty minutes thereafter.
- William Beaumont, M.D. (1785 – 1853). Dr. Beaumont is remembered for his knowledge of human digestion… knowledge gained in a delightfully gruesome manner! In 1822, a fur trader named Alexis St. Martin sustained an accidental musket shot to the stomach. The resultant wound was as large as a man’s fist. Dr. Beaumont sought to treat St. Martin and, indeed, managed to save his life; however, he failed to find a means to permanently close the wound. Unable to continue in his former occupation, St. Martin was hired as a handyman by the good doctor. Incredibly, fully one year after the accident, St. Martin still had a 2.5” opening in his stomach through which his meals and drink would ooze unless prevented by application of a compress! Dr. Beaumont became obsessed with studying the exposed organ, conducting experiments which included fixing a silk thread around meat which would then be introduced into St. Martin’s stomach via the wound! St. Martin would then return to his duties, reporting on the hour to the doctor who would retrieve the meat, study its condition, and then return it to the stomach for further digestion. Crude? Perhaps. But it is because of Beumont’s tenacity (not to mention St. Martin’s constitution!) that the understanding of human digestion made significant advances in a short period of time.
- Kate Brewington Bennett (1818 - 1867). The wife of one of the Founders of Bellefontaine (William Bennett), Kate was thought to be the most beautiful woman in St. Louis. Part of this owed to her haunting, pale complexion. Wraith-like, she graced the finest events of her day. Unfortunately, her lily-whiteness derived from the ingestion of small doses of arsenic. Unbeknownst to the lovely lady, the poison has a cumulative effect. This led to the belle’s untimely death at the age of 37 years. Her husband had her figure carved in repose and watched over by a mourning woman who stands at the deathbed. And thus Kate rests beneath an ornately carved white canopy in Bellefontaine to this day. Sadly, though, her form is being degraded by the elements and her once-distinct and comely features are vanishing with the passage of time.
- Adolphus Busch (1838 – 1913) of Anheuser-Busch fame. Built two years after the beer baron’s demise, the Gothic tomb is easily one the most striking mausoleums in the country. Figures resembling a medieval lord and lady stand in exquisite niches above the bronze gates of the structure. Between them, the family name and dates are recorded along with the famous words of Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar: VENI. VIDI. VICI. (i.e. “I came. I saw. I conquered.”). When visiting, be sure to ascend the five stairs which lead to the exquisite gates guarding the mausoleum. Heavy glass doors located behind afford a view of the clean-lined elegance within. Side by side on the floor rest two crypts, each surmounted by a bronze laurel wreath. Multi-coloured light filters through medieval stained-glass windows, bathing the mausoleum in an other-worldly glow. Another interesting note: Busch died in Germany but insisted his body be shipped to the United States of America where his new castle awaited.
- Captain Isaiah Sellars (1802-1864). Sellars’ monument depicts him standing at the wheel of his boat. Interestingly, it was Captain Sellars who created and used “Mark Twain” as his pseudonym. Samuel Clemens picked it up after the good Captain’s demise.
- John R. O’Fallon (1791-1865). Descended from Irish kings on his paternal side and William Clark (explorer) on the paternal, his monument lays claim to being the largest in Bellefontaine.
- Sarah Teasdale (1884 – 1933). Justice cannot be done in so small a space to the brilliant life and tragic death of this most exceptional woman poet. You would do well to research her life in your own good time…an endeavour which will be its own rich reward. For our purposes, suffice to say Ms. Teasdale led a sheltered life fraught with illness and emotional repression. Although she married, that relationship ended in divorce and she spent the remaining four years of her life in total dedication to her craft. Tormented by depression throughout her life, it is not surprising she (at last) succumbed to Death whom she had so long courted. On the night of 29 January, 1933, she entered a warm bath in her New York City hotel room. Then, she swallowed a handful of sleeping pills and fell softly to her rest. She was 48 years old. These words from her 1915 poem, “I Shall Not Care” seem to eloquently sum up her thoughts on life and death:
When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho' you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.
I shall have peace as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.
- Charlotte and Ellis Wainwright Mausoleum. Upon the death of his young wife, Charlotte, financier Ellis Wainwright commissioned architect Louis Sullivan to design a fitting tomb. The resultant structure is one of the loveliest in Bellefontaine. Comprised of grey limestone, the square structure is capped by a simple dome. Inside, the ceiling is painted blue and graced by the faces of tiny cherubim. A natural motif of leaves and circles encompasses the mausoleum. Ellis was interred alongside his wife after his death in 1924. The mausoleum bears no name or other inscription, a fact which serves the designer's intended purpose...which is to draw visitors to step up to the structure and peer inside where the domed ceiling is graced with the faces of tiny cherubim and the walls are bedecked in mosaic tile. The Wainwright Mausoleum is commonly referred to as the “Taj Mahal of Bellefontaine.”
- Herman Luyties (1871-1921) and “The Girl in the Shadow Box.” A twelve-foot marble woman, encased in a sturdy, glass-fronted granite shadow box, stands watch over the grave of holistic pharmacist Herman Luyties. In 1904, the recently married Luyties took a trip to Italy (without his wife). During the journey, he espied a beautiful Italian model whose shapely form had been used by sculptor Giulio Monteverde as inspiration for a graveyard angel in Monumental Cemetery, Milan. Luyties was instantly love-sick and proposed to the young woman who promptly refused his advances. Undaunted, Luyties commissioned Monteverde to replicate the statue, sans wings, and ship it to his home in St. Louis. When the oversized figure, weighing several tons, arrived in the States, Mrs. Luyties was not amused, particularly after her husband had the “girl” placed in the foyer of the family home. It soon became apparent one of the women would have to leave…and Mrs. Luyties wasn’t about to accept defeat. Ever the opportunist, Mr. Luyties selected the family burial plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery to be the new home for his wingless angel, and so the statue was moved in short order. Initially, the sculpture stood wholly exposed; however, as years and weather began to take their toll, Luyties had the aforementioned glass-front shadowbox constructed to protect her. Upon his death in 1921, he was buried at the feet of his beloved Italian “angel.” Although the family plot could accommodate over 15 bodies, Luyties lies alone with his beautiful stone paramour, for his wife and the remainder of the family chose not to be inhumed in her presence. They rest in another area of Bellefontaine.
Finally, we will mention the formidable Lemp Mausoleum. Belonging to the prominent brewing family, it serves as eternal shelter to various members of this troubled Lemp clan. The Lemp’s made their fortune just as the Busch’s did…brewing, bottling and selling beer. At one point in the early 1900s, the Lemp Brewery was valued at 7 million dollars. But Fate had great tragedy in mind for the family. In 1901, young Frederick (William Lemp’s favourite son) died of unknown causes. Heartbroken over the loss, father followed son into the next world 3 years letter when William Sr. shot himself in the head at the Lemp Mansion.
With the onset of Prohibition, the Lemp Brewery was forced to close in 1919. The following year, Elsa Lemp (daughter of William Sr.) died by her own hand. Shortly thereafter, her brother (William Lemp, Jr.) shot and killed himself in the Lemp Mansion. His suicide took place 18 years after his father’s. William Lemp III died of a heart attack at the age of 42. In the end, Charles Lemp (brother of William, Jr. and Frederick Lemp) took to a strange, lonely life in the hulking mansion. Not surprisingly, he followed in the family’s footsteps, taking his own life with a gun. Today, the family’s former abode is the Lemp Mansion Restaurant and Inn.
There are, of course, other stories, other fascinating facts and treasures to be discovered, but we hope these offerings have served to whet your appetite. Bellefontaine is a wonderland filled with softly rolling landscapes, deeply-shadowed areas and tombs to die for! It is a taphophile's fondest dream come true...a splendidly-maintained Victorian Garden Cemetery of considerable proportions populated by dramatic toms and mausoleums of all shapes and sizes. It is a cemetery worthy of several days' exploration and one well worth travelling great distances to reach. Coupled with her nearby sister, Calvary Cemetery (located just across the street), there is really no good reason to forgo a trip here if you love the beauty of funereal art as much as we do. What more need we say? GO!